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School ditches rules and loses bullies (tvnz.co.nz)
253 points by luu on Feb 1, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 108 comments

Since my natural preference (and probably that of many here) would be more freedom I think it's important to be wary of wishful thinking. Even though I think the link between authoritarian institutions and bullying is real, there are too many variables at play to make such a direct assertion.

Regardless, I favor less rules and more freedom for kids for it's own sake. If there are social and/or developmental benefits, that would be icing on the cake.

Where I grew up (near Charlottesville, VA), I had acres of wilderness in my backyard and the surrounding area to explore with my friends. We would build make play forts, climb (real) trees, make bridges over creeks and rivers etc. In the winter we'd go sledding, unsupervised, on real hills that we discovered ourselves .. age ranges from 7 to 10.

Nearby there were a couple old plantation houses (ruins) near the scene of various battles from the revolutionary to the civil war. One even had cannonballs embedded in the walls. To be clear, these were just there, not maintained as museums etc. They were a rumor passed from older kids to younger ones, each mini-generation re-discovering them and the wonders contained.

I bet if our parents knew exactly what we were doing they would have been horrified, that was part of the fun. We did these things without their permission.

When I was about 13, we moved to upper middle class suburban California. Nice, safe, maintained parks. Pretend islands with pretend castles, slides and playground equipment with signs displaying instructions for "proper use." Frankly, boring, synthetic and alarmingly sad.

I witnessed this in highschool. The first school I went to was extremely authoritarian and was grade 8-12. Fights and bullies a common occurrence. I didn't have a problem dealing with them but other kids had a brutal time, pushed down the stairs breaking their jaws, fights everyday, kids waiting around the field after dark to catch you crossing it by yourself for a brutal beating, one kid had his hair lit on fire in chem 11 class, police would shake the students down for drugs and weapons almost every week.

I got kicked out for redboxing the school payphone and for reciting the lyrics to Nazi school and saluting my detention room minders, which is some old 80s song on the KBD comps http://youtu.be/QJ5kuA_66u8

I was sent by my country's ministry of education to a school of 'criminal youth' with 1200 students and no rules that was 10-12 grade. Not one fight. Many of the kids were serious gangsters involved in operating drug lines or fresh out of juvie hall. With no rules to rebel against everybody hung out including geeky neckbeards with Christian Audiger wearing Gs. They told us it was up to us to pass or fail, they weren't responsible and we could do anything we wanted including not showing up. Meanwhile my friends would lament of the stifling rules and regulations back in my old school that saw endemic violence and brutality. The more you try to control people the worse they become it seems.

My first week at the new school I acted like I was still in an institution by booting my books down the halls, and generally being a complete goof. Nobody paid attention to me and my antics didn't move me up the social ladder. There's no reason to rebel against a place without any rules that tells you your own actions will decide if you sink or swim. No nannies phoning home to your parents saying you didn't show up, no detention, no late slips, no punishment for disrupting a class either. We would talk to each other in the middle of a lecture and the teacher didn't go on a massive power trip trying to punish and humiliate us in front of all the other students. We were just told that if we didn't listen or respect the teachers we'd fail in life, so we listened.

Compare that to my last school when in grade 8 I was dragged into a Socials 12 class because the instructor thought I made a racist comment in the hallways when it was some other older kids who did while passing by. He basically encouraged the other Grade 12 students to 'teach me a lesson' through violence and would harass me on a regular basis because of this. I reacted like any other kid, become a total nightmare student and get kicked out.

This is the strangest sounding story that I have ever heard. It is either fake, or there were other factors going on such the juveniles with true behavioral problems just never bothered showing up to school because they weren't required to.

A school with absolutely no rules? So you could cheat on tests openly? you could walk through the campus naked? you could sell or do drugs in class? You could vandalize the campus? Threaten to kill the teacher? You could break into the school's office or computer system and change your grades? Bribe the graders? ETC?

A bunch of 16-18 year old kids with no such requirement following all the rules once they aren't enforced? Nice story.

I call BS. Source: Documented history of innate human nature and the 100% failures of all utopian ideas like the one you fabricated...

I would downvote you if I could. Your 6 day old account probably will be abandoned in a week anyway.

Such a warm welcome. If you're so convinced the parent comment was a fabrication for attention and approval, why not just say so without the derisive tone and personal attack?

Edit: though it may have been an accidental misclick, I would appreciate an explanation from the user who downvoted my comment if it was not an accident. I consider googles99's comment to be unnecessarily harsh to a new HN user, and want to know why discouraging such incivility is worthy of a downvote, if indeed it was not accidental.

Grow a pair, it's the internet (not much of the fake PC here [which is really just honesty suppression] that you see in society today). I don't like people trying to plant false ideologies in sheeple's brains based on fiction. It actually works (just look at America over the last 20 years). So I deal with it rather harshly when I see it.

It's not the Internet, it's Hacker News, which has rules and guidelines to promote civility and maximize signal to noise. So what false ideology is being planted, and to what end?

tl; dr: "Grow a pair [...] honesty suppression [...] sheeple"

Yep. There was a punching 'wall' I never used full of holes to let out frustration. The school itself had no rules except for the laws of Canada obviously so threats and bribing are illegal anywhere but I never saw anything like that, in my old school I saw threats against teachers. Selling drugs, again illegal in Canada so no however there were kids openly smoking weed in the field and nobody did anything about it. There were no tests to cheat on. Their motto was 'we never give up you' and it wasn't utopian at all, you had to work to graduate which was a gov test taken elsewhere where cheating was monitored. The motivation to graduate for some was to end parole restrictions about going out at night, others the motivation was to not become a failure

You went to school for two years there to prepare for 1 govt provided test? It must have been rough to remember the history or social science questions of material you have studied two years prior huh?

No rules but the laws of Canada? Well that is very close to the same thing as most schools then right? The only difference was a few rules such as you could be late to class or truant and you could leave campus whenever you wanted to. Funny that one of the laws of Canada prohibits redboxing - one of the very same "rules" that you were kicked out of school to begin with...

So you are telling me that 3 rule changes, only having one test in all of school, people telling everyone that they should study or they will fail at life (something I probably have heard from every teacher I have ever had) and a motto of "we will never give up on you" changed things that much?

What was the name of this miraculous institution???

One could change just one rule in any school in the world and it would make the kind of improvement that you describe. Optional attendance. Of course 1/3 of the school won't show up, but that is the "bad kids" anyway.

>Even though I think the link between authoritarian institutions and bullying is real, there are too many variables at play to make such a direct assertion.

On the contrary, the problem is that schools are insufficiently authoritarian. Low-level harassment by students goes unpunished, while outright retaliation (a well-deserved punch in the face) is punished.

A lot of schools are in this weird uncanny valley between freedom and strict discipline. Both would create order, but choosing one in between will have the advantages of neither.

I am not sure your ideal of perfect authoritarianism is possible. If you want to torment someone it is always going to be possible to do invisibly to casual observation. Restrictions merely determine the language of what harassment consists off, but those who are less well adjusted socially, who are unable to participate as effectively in whatever social maneuvering exists, will always be targeted.

My impossible idea? I was not the one who coined the phrase "Zero tolerance."

Yes, the idea you espouse. Yours, given that you promoted it. Or do you want to revise your statement?

You have too much belief the authorities in this case will act fairly and in the interest of the vulnerable. From my personal experience (as a frequent "victim" mainly due to skipping a couple grades), I have absolutely zero confidence in this outcome.

You're also failing to consider that being under strict authority might itself make people behave worse. You see this in every totalitarian regime, from the Nazis to the Communists and to the Taliban.

That is the paradox of authoritarianism. No matter how comprehensive, it is always possible for an aggressor to fly under the radar and work the system against you. Hell, you don't even have to strike back, you can be singled out for punishment by the authorities simply for being attacked, which marks you out as 'being involved in trouble making'. The actual aggressor will have melted from the scene at this stage, leaving you in the spotlight.

Occurs to me that under the strict playground rules, the school was effectively being a bully: harmless natural behavior was being punished way out of proportion and with no sensible (to the kids) reason. Seems the bullies were just mimicking what the school was doing.

Agree in principle: a great deal of bullying goes on in schools that is not pupil-on-pupil.

I grew up partly in the French school system, and this certainly holds true. Teachers were often prototypical bullies : humiliating kids, mocking them outright, verbally lashing out at them.

No shocker that this behavior trickles down as a model to follow.

I grew up partly in the French school system too, but never had such kind of teachers. I was both in private schools and ZEP (area with high level of immigration and considered schools with problems). This is just to balance your point of view with respect to the French school system.

While ideologically I am more likely to agree with the study (hence the need for more caution), the results seem possibly (I bet, more) likely due to the Hawthorne effect. That is the kids and teachers felt they were special because of the study and so behaved better. Alternatively, fabricated data.

The article is written like this is a silver bullet with hand waving pseudoscience justification which implies it is total bull.

I grew up in New Zealand in the 80s. Bullrush, 3-story high flying foxes on school property, huge trees, open farmland, unsupervised cross-country runs: no adults around were par for the course except if someone broke a bone (which I remember happening in my community twice in 10 years) and we managed ourselves. We like to think we're a good outdoor lot of people and many of us adults have been horrified to think our kids can't grow up like we did.

What I saw in this video was like looking back 30 years and it made me happy. You're underestimating our kids to think we can't let them loose for a good game of bullrush and they are more aware that they are being watched than actually just playing the rules of the game. Also remember that Rugby is New Zealand's national sport and these kids grow up watching it and knowing the rules. I'd bet some of those kids end up in the All Blacks.

I did too. So I just wanted to mention that it was exactly the same for me. Just like you said: bullrush, rugby, flying foxes, the chance to run around and be kid. I went to a catholic school run by nuns at that age, so they would walk around and make sure that nothing got out of hand. And it never did.

Thing one thing I would say is that it was a different time and I think we have became more fearful of the potential dangers out there. We are presented with extreme events and begin to think that this is the way of the world. Parents (rightfully) become fearful for their children. But, for a lot of us, we are lucky and live in a very safe environments, and in such environments children should be aloud to explore, imagine, and enjoy their childhoods.

Edit: a flying-fox is what we call in NZ and Australia a 'zip line' I believe. Still find them in New Zealand across the country in public parks but not any, I believe, schools these days. How else do you get kids to run up 3 flights of stairs 20 times during lunch?

a quick look on google maps revealed that the flying fox at my intermediate is still there, admittedly it's not as high as most in public parks that i remember

I grew up in the 90s (in NZ...), we also had all of that. However I can say from years 5-9 there was bullying, but not much, but it grew way out of control when things were taken away... The last couple of years at primary school, we were not allowed to play bullrush, not allowed to play tackle rugby, flying fox was gone, not allowed to climb trees, too many restrictions on taking equipment out (for things like soccer/cricket)

Bullying grew more and more, i suspect because we were doing less at playtime and spending more time hassling each other.

I got into far too many fights towards the end of primary school than my first couple of years.

Another New Zealander here, there's merit to encouraging safety consciousness in children. An injury like a broken back (That most people think will "never happen to them") can doom someone for life. Teaching rigorous safety consciousness in children should result in some of that safety consciousness sticking around into adulthood.

That being said, I also think rugby is a silly game.

>Teaching rigorous safety consciousness in children

Yes, watching the video reminded me that no-one taught me how to tackle when I was playing Rugby as a skinny 11 year old. Good to see the kids at the school have someone to help them avoid those common injuries and still get some decent play in.

Upvote for calling rugby a silly game. I went to a rugby playing school and it drove me nuts to be interrupted every three seconds by the whistle. It was psychological torture. I wandered off the pitch one day and joined the losers, punks and scrawny deadbeats playing soccer on a rough sloping field with the goalposts marked out by jumpers. Bugger rugby.

There weren't any rules when I was in primary school either and there definitely were bullies and injuries on the playground.

> Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. "You can't teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there."

Weak argument for the no-rules position. Children get injuries all the time, whether you have rules or not :].

The fact that this particular school has no reports of injuries seems suspicious to me. And a (self reported) higher level of concentration in the classroom can't be related to the playground absence of rules (well, the article doesn't provide any explanations for that). Did they ditch the coke vending machines as well ? I could believe that.

Disclaimer: I was raised in Europe and although there were no rules per se we weren't allowed to leave the school premises. The article doesn't give enough details to compare both situations.

The article doesn't give a lot of information, but neither does your anecdotes.

>There weren't any rules when I was in primary school either and there definitely were bullies and injuries on the playground.

I'm not sure that the article is saying that the removal of rules has lead to zero bullies/injuries--just a reduction.

>Weak argument for the no-rules position. Children get injuries all the time, whether you have rules or not :].

This is an even weaker argument for rules. If children are going to get injuries whether you have rules or not, than why are you wasting time rule-making when nobody wants to follow the rules and nobody wants to enforce the rules? Furthermore, I'd say that the thesis of "less rules means more activity, means less time spent harassing and troublemaking," is very plausible.

It's like getting a husky and crating him up all day, then wondering why he's irritable and destructive.

It got stuck in the keyboard but I wanted to add in the disclaimer that I don't have any strong opinion on the subject of rules on the playground. Moreover, there seem to be significant differences between our countries on that topic.

> The article doesn't give a lot of information, but neither does your anecdotes.

I fully agree with you, I just wanted to point out that one school "without rules" is not enough to draw any conclusion regarding bullying as the article seems to imply. (I read "lose bullies" as "no bullies", my mistake).

> This is an even weaker argument for rules.

I don't really have an argument for or against rules. I don't even know what's in the playground rulebook.

The higher concentration in class (if real) is quite easily explainable by kids getting all their crazies out during recess, and generally being able to do what they want for a while.

Am I the only one that does not see anything special about those kids?

We played with sticks and stones, football, skate, bmx biking, hiking all the time in Spain.

You got hurt all the time too, but mostly scratches, you understood risk and knew the limits.

There were also bullies, but the best thing you can do against bullies is fight them back. There are some places with rules like "no fighting" that ironically makes bullies rule.

That's the point, IMO. It's a return to norms. I don't know about you guys, but I was in school only a few years ago, and my brothers just graduated. We weren't even allowed to play ball sports during lunch/morning tea. It was crap, and so I decided to cause havoc on the school's network (although, 1) thats not a cause and effect, and 2) that ended up with me earning lots of money now...) -- anyway, I agree with you. Also, I fought my last bully back when I was 14, and the teachers let me off entirely. He, on the otherhand, got expelled, as he was constantly doing shit like that. (As a random aside, he's in jail for blowing up and robbing ATMs. Go figure)

I certainly do.

At my kids' school, they are blowing whistles at kids for running. RUNNING! It's stupid. So someone gets bumped. Someone skins their knee. For God's sake, let the kids RUN.

Then on the playground. If there were sticks, or tackling, or climbing on anything except the rubber-made play sets, they'd be sent to the office and be held in on the next recess. Ridiculous.

Watching the video with this article made me feel SO HAPPY for these kids. Playing games we used to play as kids. Less fear of being "safe" and a little more aggressive and exhilarating play.

I sort-of "get" the bullying part too. Sort-of. I think it comes down to "getting out the aggression". And when aggressive kids are cornered, they may lash out. Though I'm no expert at all. But I think there's a bit of sense to this.

> There are some places with rules like "no fighting" that ironically makes bullies rule.

Especially with the usual idiotic companions of zero-tolerance and "it takes 2 for a fight".

> but the best thing you can do against bullies is fight them back.

That sounds crazy to me. Doesn't fighting back just escalate things? And do we really want the next generation to grow up thinking that fighting is OK? Will they apply that same pattern when they're adults?

I wouldn't mind at all if the next generation was more comfortable with fighting. It's a basic human instinct and when basic instincts are completely suppressed pathological behaviors will bulge out instead.

The current state of "assault" law is appalling, especially in the U.S. We need to get more than a bit back to what we actually are.

What exactly do you mean by "what we actually are"? I don't want to jump to conclusions and go off in the wrong direction.

Most bullies are power-tripping on the effect they have. Standing up to them is unexpected, they don't know how to react, and quickly back down. It's not worth the risk to put up a fight when you can just pick on someone else.

It works when you're an adult as well, though if they're your boss they might fire you.

In my experience standing up to bullies was always completely useless. I mean, it might work, but wit and physical ability are necessary to make that happen in practice and many who are bullied have neither (I certainly didn’t).

Bullies do know very well how to react to someone standing up to them. All my bullies did. It was worthless. I was always unable to do or say the right things to stop them.

This always seemed like a useless platitude to me that doesn’t work one bit outside of very specific circumstances.

Well, sure, fighting back doesn't always work. But even if you failed, at least you tried. Perhaps that's not the best thing in the world for your self-respect, but take it from me, it's a hell of a lot better than not even trying.

No, trying tends to make things worse, at least in my experience. Someone who is bullied is not good at retaliation. Bullies tend to be super-great at complaining to teachers and getting you punished.

Sometimes, fighting is OK.

Particularly when the alternative is to get pushed around until an authority figure happens to see and intercede on your behalf.

I think it's important to carry that lesson into adulthood, especially as we learn that not all fights are physical.

Fighting is ok. Esp fighting back. It is, occasionally, necessary.

Fighting is not just violence. It is self confidence, standing up for oneself or for what is right.

Perhaps you've had the good fortune, possibly by dint of having been raised in some sort of isolation chamber, of never encountering bullies in childhood. Had you done, you'd probably have noticed that most bullies are basically cowards, which means that fighting back is much less likely to escalate the matter than to end it. Conversely, to supinely suffer whatever a bully dishes out will certainly embolden him, with the probable result that he will "grow up thinking that fighting is OK", just like you don't want.

It's common for members of certain groups, particularly those of a quixotic utopian bent, to see a bunched fist as something that's awful and terrifying in its own right. This is not true; like any weapon, its moral valence is ineluctably situational and determined by the use to which it's put. A bully uses it to inflict terror on those who can't or won't fight back. We agree that this use carries a negative moral valence, but you fail to think it through properly; the assumption that more violence is always worse than less violence blinds you to the fact that not all violence is morally equivalent -- that the violence which stops a bully is not the same as the violence which satisfies a bully -- because you find it so unpleasant to contemplate any violence.

This is a regrettably common form of moral cowardice, but it is no less base or shameful for all that. Perhaps you think I judge too harshly; in entire fairness, I'd think the same, had not the schools of my youth been administered by people who had precisely the same attitude toward violence in general; their idea was that the problem of bullying could be entirely solved by sufficient attention from authorized adults, which might possibly be workable if, say, there were a roughly 1:1 staff-to-student ratio, and constant supervision in places like bathrooms. Since there isn't and never will be, the whole idea is plainly and fundamentally flawed, but that doesn't seem enough to stop some people from trying to put it into practice nonetheless.

I've seen the policies which result from such foolishness, and experienced their consequences firsthand; indeed, they made my youth a great deal more unpleasant than it really had to be, and it's because of that experience that I have such short shrift to give these opinions when I encounter them in adulthood.

Your reply (dripping with condescension which makes it an unpleasant read) ignores the many people who have met bullies who are not cowards and who are either physically strong or in some position of power or who are emotional bullies.

You also make the mistake of saying that bullying is a problem of childhood. Plenty of adults bully and are bullied.

Well, as I was writing a comment in a Hacker News thread, I figured it'd be excusable to restrict myself to that which is relevant in the context of the discussion at hand, rather than trying to encompass the whole world. Perhaps I was wrong in that. But, nitpicks aside, the point I'm making is that standing up for yourself is strictly preferable to not doing so, both in terms of self-respect and in that, save only the most extreme of outliers, standing up for yourself will produce a preferable result. Do you contend otherwise?

I contend that situation matters, and that standing up for youself has been tried by some people who then suffered worse brutality.

It's easy to say "stand up for yourself", especially if you have wrong ideas about bullies, but just saying it is not particularly helpful for many people being bullied.

It is trite and simplistic. It is also harmful for some people being bullied.

Standing up for myself worked for me in grade school, after years of torment. A nuanced approach is required, but measured retaliation is appropriate in some cases.

Yes, sometimes bopping the aggressor on the nose will work wonders. Sometimes there are clear and useful anti-bullying policies in place and people can use them. I'm not saying "never do it". I'm just saying that it's not always that easy.

I grew up in the "zero tolerance for fighting" era. Even if your parents said it was ok to smack someone if they hit you first, it was drilled into kids by teachers and the administration that there would be serious consequences for both parties.

All it does is give more power to bullies. They can be jerks out of sight as much as they want, knowing their targets will never do anything to protect themselves. When it happened to me, I was always more overcome with fear that they would kick me out of school and my life would be over than I was scared of the bully, so I never retaliated. Of course, you can't tell the teacher or your parents either. Not only does that make you look like a "wimp," but it's somehow against the code of kids to get an adult involved; you would feel ashamed if you tattled. So instead, you just put up with it, and the school basically enables the bully to torment as much as they want, as long as they aren't dumb enough to get caught. I didn't have too many problems with bullying growing up, but there were other kids that were basically doomed to years of torment because of this, and were seriously screwed up and jaded because of it. Even worse, even most of the regular kids would avoid the bullied kid and talk about them behind their back, partially for fear of retribution from the bully, and partially because kids in general are cruel and enjoy having power over others almost as much as the bullies themselves, so being the target of a bully meant "you endure cruelty and physical violence on a daily basis, you have no friends, you cannot escape, you aren't allowed to defend yourself, and the adults aren't on your side."

Jumping forward a few years to being a teenager, a guy I didn't like was being a jerk outside of school, and something inside of me was just so tired of always backing down that I ended up hitting him. We traded blows for a minute or so (we were more thrashing like idiots than doing anything "cool" and actually dangerous you'd see in a movie) before it got broken up. We were barely hurt, no busted lips or black eyes, and neither of our parents ever found out. Afterwards, I immediately had a lot more respect amongst my friends, and I somehow ended up becoming friends with the guy I fought. Guys are funny like that.

Random violence and actually hurting people is obviously not ok, but fighting back against bullies prevents them from getting overconfident and lets the bullied keep their dignity. I'm convinced that a more understanding administrative policy and less adult supervision would have allowed most of these problems to sort themselves out pretty quickly, evening out the power distribution in the classroom and making life significantly better for the worst victims of bullying. It probably wouldn't completely solve the problem, for example in the obvious scenario where a group of older kids screw with younger kids outside of school, but at least it solves the horrendous problem we have today where, as I described above, almost an entire class is pitted against a kid.

> do we really want the next generation to grow up thinking that fighting is OK? Will they apply that same pattern when they're adults?

As I understand it, the past few generations are the weird ones, and kids have pretty much always been allowed to get away with harmless fights. Ask your parents how often many fistfights they've had since graduating high school.

I look forward to them publishing, and will be interested to see the long term effects, especially with kids that have been exposed to only this regime from the moment they join the school. On the face of it right now, I'd be wary of the Hawthorne effect:


So 10,000 children grow up happier and learning proper risk taking behaviour... and one dies from strangulation when going down a slide with a rope in hand (happened last week in my city)... and one is quadriplegic for life after jumping into a murky lake (friend of my cousin)...

Do we really, really just want to accept those risks? I don't think that's easy to answer...

1. What about all the kids whose lives are ruined by bullying, some of which commit suicide?

2. Why not ban skiing (etc) because lots of people get paralyzed or die doing it?

3. Why not just ban everything even slightly fun, because fun things usually entail some risk?

> Why not ban skiing (etc) because lots of people get paralyzed or die doing it?

do ski resorts let schoolchildren onto the slopes without any kind of parental consent? I believe children aren't considered in the same way we do adults for a reason.

Consent? We're talking about the child's life, here! We can't just let parents consent to letting their child take massive risks! You can't "consent" that your child can jump into a murky lake or go down a slide with a rope in hand, so you certainly can't consent to letting them do something as reckless as skiiing.

Where did I say there shouldn't be parental consent? But it should be (as much as possible) on an individual basis (like ski slopes) rather than a collective one.

Yes. That is, in fact, a very easy answer. You're either strongly underestimating the consequences of bullying or strongly overestimating the effectiveness of legislation or regulation.

Of course not. There's no risk too small for preventing. We should have kids wrapped up in bubble-wrap and never near any activity that could harm them - even a paper can give you a paper-cut which can then get infected and the kid would die of sepsis - true story, I've heard it from a guy that heard it from a guy that worked with a brother of the kid who went into school with the kid that heard it from his cousin who saw it in his own eyes! So clearly, no safety measures are ever enough - because think of the children! They could die! Do you want kids to die? What kind of a monster are you? If you don't want kids to die, then you should support any safety measure if it has even a minuscule imaginary chance of preventing some harm. No matter how much it hurts real kids' development in the overwhelming majority of cases.

Kids have been getting paralyzed from jumping into pools and lakes since forever, and the "going down a slide with a rope," strangulation thing sounds a little rare to even think twice about.


It isn't really that rare. Happens. I've seen real life stories on tv before. Kids who don't understand strangulation playing around. plus accidents with clothes.


>Remove all drawstrings from your child's clothes and make he/she is not wearing any necklaces or scarves while playing; these items could get caught on equipment and strangle a child.

Real examples






Clothing drawstrings seems like a different (and well-known) thing, but those other stories still seem freakish to me. Maybe I'm out of touch, is there a common "rope and slide" maneuver that kids like to do these days?

What makes you assume that those risks would be eliminated by more oversight, more rules or more control?

It is for me. Maybe we should target a death rate for childhood like we target inflation. If it gets too low, we should allow children more freedoms until we get the mortality rate back up.

There are two things I know to be true about humans.

1- Humans think they are good at risk assessment 2- Humans are very bad at risk assessment

In particular, humans suck at dealing with very big or very small numbers.

Yes! Yes, we do. Because there is no way to prevent bad things happening. All the foam padding and cotton wool in the world won't prevent the occasional kid dying or being badly injured; if nothing else, there will always be at least a few abusive parents. You can't save everyone, but you can do a hell of a lot of damage trying -- and, callous as you might think it, the mishaps you cite carry useful lessons of their own for those who survive.

Yes, it's called evolution the kid that can't figure out he is doing something very dangerous does't end up having children of his own.

I know this sounds very harsh but it's not like there is another way to teach this to children. They need to figure it out on their own.

All parents wish they could wrap their children in cotton but the reality is they can't do that forever it's best children lern about risk early.

I don't know why you are being downvoted. Humans are physical creatures as much as thinkers, and not letting kids find physical limits is going to have severe effects on their ability to think and take creative risks with their minds.

FYI evolution hardwired us to take relatively massive risks during adolescence.

That's... not how evolution works.

So, kids can survive playing around without paranoid adults standing over them and monitoring them 24/7? Truly shocking news indeed, it's not like this is exactly what has been happening for millenia, until the current paranoid approach to minuscule risks took over.

> [...] until the current paranoid approach to minuscule lawsuits took over.

FTFY. But, then again, I'm a helpless cynic.

Lawsuits are the consequence of that. The concept is that if something happen, there must be somebody to blame, because they "should have done something to prevent it". And the lawsuits are in no way minuscule - they are actually huge and consist a serious drag on the economy, but the worst consequence, of course, is the behavior modification which emphasizes covering one's ass over all else.

In the actual video, the principal doesn't say there are no rules, but that they start off with no rules and create them collaboratively is the need arises. E.g. no high tackles in the game of bullrush

Exactly. Kids don't want to hurt themselves or others, they just sometimes don't realize certain things like high tackles could be inherently dangerous. Teaching in this method is brilliant IMO.

Pretty much exactly the same thing happened in the NFL, with regard to high tackles (in an attempt to reduce concussions).

The effect on bullying is likely minimal - in my school, everyone could do whatever they wanted and there were still plenty of assholes that made life hell.

In the school mentioned in the article, there was a significant decrease in bullying. But we don't know absolute figures before and after (understandably, that is difficult to measure).

Two thoughts:

1. Perhaps the effect of loosening the rules lasts only a few years. After that the playground gets boring again and the bullies resume their behavior.

2. There might be other factors too, such as the environment of the kids when they are away from school.

3. Measuring the amount of bullying that occurs is not an exact science?

Not to say that letting the kids get their hands dirty is a bad idea.

That story is anecdote. Not surprising or a problem from a general news source. But as a few commenters have pointed out, it ignores the fact of high risk/low probability events, and our general inability to properly assess those.

I'm surprised this crowd isn't more data-driven in its assessment. Surely studies of child safety trends exist, and could be correlated to levels of regulation?

The closest thing a quick Google turned up is a study of mandatory cycle helmet legislation and its effect on injury rates. Those rates declined 45% after the introduction of helmet laws. Perhaps not a perfect analogy, but chalk one up for regulation. http://cyclehelmets.org/1106.html

Lenore Skenazy (Free Range Kids) blogged about this. [1] A commenter linked to a podcast with the school Principal. [2]

[1] http://www.freerangekids.com/unsafe-playground-happier-safer...

[2] http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/ntn/ntn-20140127-0909-free_play...

Seems like there may be a correlation with: Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges (The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the government)


Not in this case:


But I will say that New Zealand has a perceived problem currently as a somewhat 'nanny state'. Definitely a million kinds of by-laws but we try to resolve our differences with fairness in mind. Generally I describe New Zealand as a 'fair' country, as in, let's figure out what's fair for all involved.

A lot of new experiments like this are basically the montessori approach. our kids' montessori school has giant tree logs and boulders.

There's nothing very new about this. Aboriginal societies have been exercising the principle of permissive education for hundreds for years. There is something very logical about the idea of applying the premise of learning from one's mistakes to even the most basic things in life, which are learned as children.

I think, in order to work that well, this kind of "riot" school yard activity would require a teacher with certain character traits such as authority, playfulness and calm at the same time. That guy in the video seems to suit very well. But it certainly looks like a good concept.

I absolutely agree with this move, but I'll play devil's advocate for a moment on this

>Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

Back in the days before all this modern child cocooning began, kids were free to roam and do pretty much whatever they wanted. But car drivers of the time routinely drove around without safety belts in what were essentially death traps. After safety belts and very basic safety equipment were introduced, it still took decades for people who grew up with the freer childhoods to really cotton on to them.

When I grew up I could roam freely (well, mostly, and I didn't always make as good use of it as I could, often preferring books to soccer) and I still have absolutely no problem with the concept of the safety belt. I know my safety is my responsibility, and if I have a device that can (and arguably already did) save my life - IMO only idiot won't use such a device. So I don't see any connection between rejecting belts and having freerange childhood.

Well, the article is positing the opposite effect is true, that cocooned children don't grow up with an appropriate respect for things that will hurt you, like driving your car safely. My devil's advocate argument is that the opposite is demonstrably true, that children who weren't cocooned did in fact grow up to not appreciate things that would hurt them. A 1950s car, for example, was basically a passenger mulching machine, yet people who grew up uncocooned (as was common at the time) drove them with quite a bit of abandon, flying all over the inside of the passenger area without even basic safety harnesses.

I don't remember the statistic off the top of my head, but Ralph Nader brought to light one particularly brutal group of years where a large number of passengers were decapitated on the glove box door during accidents that were occurring at speeds under 35 mph.

I would like to send my kids there if there is a school like that at any state!

I grew up in NZ, Swanson is one of the rougher and poorer areas in Auckland, and the school no doubt has all the issues that come with areas like that. I'd be careful that gains aren't skewed as its not a 'average' school or socio-economic environment.

yeah, my thoughts exactly. The study is fairly biased in that if you did this to Remuera school, results may be significantly different.

In my 7 year old daughter's gymnastics class the girls all play bullrush for fun during the last 10 minutes or so. Of course this is in a Canadian city where the schools don't have fences, doors are unlocked, no security guards, adults wander in and out all through the day. Americans would be shocked at the apparent permissiveness of it all.

I'll raise this useless antidote with another. I was raised in a poor inner city school that had no playground. I went to an afterschool program that was heavily subsidized for poor kids that had a huge playground. There was no rules except the older kids and younger kids were segregated. There was pretty much no supervision. I was bullied tons. Hair pulled, harassed, excluded from the parts of the playground I wanted to go on.

From a financial perspective there is a lot more downside to "no rules".

Imagine a child dying from hanging in the "lynching game". When teachers are asked if they knew about they said yes, but there are no rules.

Even if it underestimates the effect of bullying (which I'm skeptical about), it certainly puts the school at much more risk for easy lawsuits.

> Imagine

But that's the whole point: when you actually do the experiment, all these horrible things that you imagine might happen don't actually happen.

By that logic there should have been no problems whatsoever before the creation of the rules that generally obtain at schools today. One has to ask what created the pressure for those rules in the first place.

> By that logic there should have been no problems whatsoever before the creation of the rules that generally obtain at schools today

No, not "no problems whatsoever" just "fewer problems than there are now." Which is in fact the case.

The problem is that people looked at the problems that existed before the rules were in place and applied an argument of the form: There is a problem. Something must be done about this problem. This is something. Therefore we must do this.

I hope I don't have to explain the flaw in this reasoning.

Ability to sue the school combined with increased assumption that if there's a problem with kid, it's the school's fault, and not kid misbehaving.

One knows what created them. Moral panic and "we must do something" culture.

That's the entire reason the rules were originally put in place, no matter what they say, it was to avoid said lawsuits, not to protect children.

Nobody wants to see a kid hurt, but rules only get teeth when money is on the line.

If you'd watched the video, here's a paraphrase:

"We watch the kids play, then we talk and they decide on the rules. They respect the rules better then".

Adult supervision at schools is pretty common, even in the deep South Pacific.

This is the complete opposite of surprising to me.

Oh really?

Sorry, I couldn't stop myself. From a standpoint of a person who was young not that long ago it's pretty much obvious. Children want, children do.

What rules did the ditch?

Many schools still won't let kids play Bullrush or play in the dirt. This is a low decile school so it seems particularly awesome for the kids to get some exercise as many parents can't afford after school programs.


So lets ask the question. Why are some people bullies and some aren't? Is is because more rules are imposed on some then others? Is it because kids aren't allowed to play bull rush or play in the mud?

Bullies usually have emotional problems or brain chemistry issues. A high percentage of bullies have fathers that are abusive to their mothers and are bullies themselves (vicious cycle). It is difficult to tell if this is merely learned or genetic, but I am pretty sure that it has nothing to do with playing bull rush.

What is likely having an effect on the kids in this school's situation is positive peer pressure. The administration puts the kids in a position of judging other peers. This has been used for at least 20 years and was effective in a high school I once attended. It was no utopia, but I sure didn't observe much bullying going on.

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